From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Cedar Waxwings Feasting on Pyracantha Berries

Life in Christian County, Kentucky... More About Trees and Plants... More About Birds and Animals...



Cedar waxwings in the pyracanthaIt was such a surprise yesterday morning to look out my kitchen window into the pyracantha bushes and see them full of cedar waxwings.

I don't think I had ever seen cedar waxwings before except in photos. I had to get out the bird field guides to be sure that I was identifying them correctly.

It would be hard to make a false identification of these handsome little birds because they are so distinctive in appearance. One very noticeable thing is their extremely sleek feathers. The little hairs on each feather must be fine and smooth as silk.

Closer look at cedar waxwingThen there's those black "Lone-Ranger" masks and the little crests on top of their heads. These are most evident when you see the cedar waxwing in profile.

And when you see the waxwing from the back (when he's sitting), you will notice two bright red spots on his back that are actually the tips of his folded wings, and a bright yellow band on the very end of his tail. These red and yellow markings are visible on one of the birds in the photo below.

One of my bird books explained that they are called "waxwings" because the red spots on their wingtips reminded people of the red sealing wax they used to close an envelope, many years ago when the birds of America were getting their English names. "Cedar" in their names refers to their fondness for cedar berries.

Cedar waxwings in the pyracantha bushThere are at least 25 birds in this little flock. They may be making their way back north or perhaps they over-wintered here.

They must have been happy to find last fall's abundant crop of pyracantha berries still hanging on the big bushes along our house. The berries were bright red through most of the winter, but they've lost their bright color now after many freezes and thaws.

I have read that the juice in pyracantha berries sometimes ferments, and it can make the waxwings drunk. Then they don't fly well. Sometimes they even die if they eat too many. I hope our berries aren't fermented, but I think it's quite possible that some are!

When the waxwings decide to have a snack, they pick and swallow the berries very rapidly. One busy little bird that I watched today was dropping at least one berry out of every four he picked. If times were hard, I suppose he might look for them on the ground, but right now, there are a great plenty of berries.

When the waxwings returned to feast again today, I decided to try to photograph them. These photos were taken through my kitchen window. I removed the screen from the window, but the dirt on the outside of the window probably didn't help the clarity of the pictures. I cropped the best parts of some photos to get the images in this post.

I had trouble with reflection on the glass. Part of the problem was that the window is over my kitchen sink, and it's hard to get close to the glass with the camera. The camera wanted to flash. Surprisingly, this didn't seem to bother the birds, though they could be startled by movements when they weren't too busy eating to notice.

All of this provided much entertainment to me today. But if you want to see some good photographs of cedar waxwings, I recommend the New Hampshire Public Television page, "NatureWorks - Cedar Waxwing." It has some interesting information about cedar waxwings as well as great pictures.

Bar

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4 comments:

Sarabeth said...

A few years ago, I saw cedar waxwings in one of our trees. It was the first time I had seen them as well. I was delighted.

And, for pictures through a window, those are pretty good.

Genevieve said...

I am glad you said that, Sarabeth, because I have been wondering if I am just unobservant -- like maybe I haven't noticed the cedar waxwings before even though they've been here every year.

Mark said...

The only time I can remember seeing cedar waxwings was a few years ago when a flock descended on a cherry laurel right outside my parents' dining room window. I noticed the sleekness of their feathers, too. I had never seen them before and have not seen them since.

Genevieve said...

That's interesting, Mark. I am relieved to learn that I'm not the only person who has only seen them once! You, Sarabeth, and I all live in the southern U.S. Maybe the folks up north see waxwings all the time when they're nesting up there in the summer

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